Nevada Mystery Novels

Nevada is the setting of more than one hundred contemporary mystery novels, with most taking place in Las Vegas, fewer in Reno and the remainder in the vast space in between. Recurring themes include gambling, corruption, land development, population growth, and conflict between ranching culture and wildlife preservation. Nevada's rich Basque heritage and the history of atomic testing also frequently appear in Nevada-based mysteries. Nevada mysteries primarily feature hardboiled detectives who set out alone into a landscape of crime, corruption, violence, and rootlessness to solve a crime.

In Las Vegas, the background of neon lights, palm trees, casinos, gambling, sin, and mobsters surrounded by empty desert and unrelenting sun acts as a character in many mysteries. These familiar images immediately provide the reader with the sense that anything is possible, if only luck is present. James Swain has a series of gambling mysteries, several of which he has set in Las Vegas casinos, including Deadman's Poker and Loaded Dice. Michael Connelly recently edited a collection of stories entitled Murder in Vegas: New Crime Tales of Gambling and Desperation, which is set largely in the casinos. Many writers with series based in other cities have one or more installments in Las Vegas. Richard Parrish takes his Tucson series to Las Vegas for Nothing But the Truth, which includes historical figures Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel as characters.

Several recent publications also highlight Las Vegas history. Richard Rayner's 2005 release, The Devil's Wind, takes place in 1950s Las Vegas and uses as an essential plot element the atomic bomb testing in the desert, paired with the growth of the Las Vegas Strip. Death of a Tenor Man, one of Bill Moody's jazz mysteries, tells the history of a 1950s Las Vegas black jazz club.

The most prolific Las Vegas mystery author is Carole Nelson Douglas, who began her Las Vegas series with Catnap in 1992, and in 2007 she published the nineteenth installment, Cat in a Red Hot Rage. This series' main character is Midnight Louie, a hardboiled feline detective who solves crimes in tandem with his human roommate. These mysteries are filled with humor, and Douglas frequently satirizes the excesses of Las Vegas.

The most prolific author of Reno mysteries is Catherine Dain (a pseudonym of writer Judith Garwood) who wrote a series of seven detective novels about Freddie O'Neal, a Keno-playing female private detective living and working in Reno. The first of these, Lay It On the Line, was published in 1992.

The author of three well-known Reno mysteries is Bernard Schopen, a lecturer in the Core Humanities Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. His Jack Ross mysteries are The Big Silence, The Desert Look, and The Iris Deception. Jack Ross is comfortable in both the casinos of Reno and the surrounding desert, which is described extensively in these mysteries. The Iris Deception highlights the debate over desert land use from the perspective of ranchers, environmentalists, and developers.

Frank Bergon, a native of Ely, Nevada, contributed a Nevada mystery with the publication of Wild Game. Like Schopen's Iris Deception, Wild Game deals with the conflict between ranching culture and wildlife protection in Nevada. Bergon also includes characters of Basque descent and characters who live daily life in Reno apart from casino culture. Wild Game highlights the beauty and emptiness of Northern Nevada, and illustrates the conflicts in land use among a family, and features ranchers and a wildlife biologist who works for the government.

Kirk Mitchell's High Desert Malice also has a Basque protagonist in Dee Laguerre, a Bureau of Land Management Agent, who grew up in sheep camps in central Nevada and faces the conflicts between old time land use and new regulations.

Several mysteries set amid the yearly Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno have been published in recent years. Eye of the Burning Man is the second Nevada mystery by Harry Shannon about detective Mick Callahan, an ex-Navy SEAL-turned-radio host who follows FBI agents and assorted villains into the Black Rock Desert during Burning Man. Shannon's first Nevada mystery, Memorial Day, is set in small-town Nevada, making it one of the very few not to take place in Reno or Las Vegas. Another Burning Man mystery, The Man Burns Tonight, is by Donn Cortez and tells the story of a computer programmer who attends the festival unwillingly and is then unwittingly forced to fit in with the rest of the attendees after witnessing a murder. Both include extensive descriptions of Black Rock City as it exists each year.

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